Last Updated Friday, March 19, 2021, at 12:51 PM
Every Friday, The Criminal Lawyer Group publishes a digest of the latest federal prosecutions nationally. Our goal is to keep the public informed as to recent events in federal courts around the country.
Unless otherwise disclosed, none of the defendants mentioned in these summaries are clients of our firm.
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FRIDAY, March 19, 2021
I. Atlantic City Fugitive Arrested for Escape
An Atlantic City,the NJ man, appeared by videoconference today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Ann Marie Donio on March 15, 2021, after he was arrested on charges of escaping from federal custody. The charges were announced by Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey Rachael A. Honig. Patrick Giblin, 56, of Atlantic City, New Jersey, is charged by with a complaint with the escape from the custody of the Attorney General.
According to the complaint and court documents, on July 23, 2020, Giblin escaped from the custody of the Attorney General while traveling from a federal prison in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, to a residential living facility in Newark, where he had been directed to serve the remainder of his federal prison sentence. At the time, Giblin was serving a 2017 sentence for traveling interstate and using an interstate facility to promote unlawful activity in connection with a scheme to defraud multiple women.
Giblin’s 2017 sentence followed an earlier sentence of 115 months’ imprisonment for a 2007 wire fraud conviction for a similar fraud scheme. Members of the U.S. Marshals Service located and arrested Giblin in Atlantic City on March 10, 2021. If convicted on the escape charge, Giblin faces up to five years in prison.
II. Florida Man Charged After Mailing Multiple Machinegun Conversion Devices
On March 15, 2021, the Acting United States Attorney for the Middle District of Florida Karin Hoppmann announced the return of an indictment charging Kristopher Justinboyer Ervin, 41, Orange Park, with possession of an unregistered machinegun conversion device. If convicted, Ervin faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison.
According to court documents, in January 2021, an agent with the ATF received information that Ervin may be selling devices referred to as “auto-sears” on a website called AutoKeyCards.com. Auto-sears are also sometimes referred to as “lightning links.” An auto-sear is a combination of parts designed and intended for converting a weapon to shoot automatically more than one shot more than one shot automatically, without manual reloading, with a single trigger pull, and is, therefore, a machinegun under federal law.
All machine guns are required to be registered in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record. Agents with ATF and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service purchased multiple items from AutoKeyCards.com consisting of metal cards etched with a design for an auto-sear. The agents paid for the metal cards etched with a design for an auto-sear using postal money orders, which Ervin then deposited into his account at a local credit union.
An ATF expert analyzed one of the devices that had been purchased undercover and was were able to convert an AR-15 style firearm into a machinegun by cutting out the etching for an auto-sear using a commonly available tool and then inserting the auto-sear into the firearm.
III. Former mayoral candidate charged with stealing from the Paycheck Protection Program
Olivia Ware, a former candidate for Mayor of the City of Conyers, Georgia, was arraigned March 16, 2021, on federal charges of bank fraud and money laundering stemming from a scheme to use a company she started to steal over $323,000 from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).
According to the Acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia Ruth Erskine, and numerous court documents, in 2020, Olivia Ware, 61, of Oxford, Georgia, was the CEO of a Georgia company called Let’s Talk About the Family, Inc., but according to state records, it did not pay wages to any employees. Despite that, Ware allegedly submitted a false application to a bank for a PPP loan for the company that included fictitious tax records purporting to show the company had 54 employees who were paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in salary.
As a result of this materially false information, the bank loaned over $323,000 in PPP funds to Ware’s company. Ware allegedly then spent the PPP loan for her own benefit, including buying an in-ground swimming pool, furniture, and other home improvement items, and to pay down the principal on her mortgage. If convicted, Ware faces charges of bank fraud and money laundering.
IV. El Paso Tax Preparer Indicted for Underreporting Income
El Paso businessman, Victor Manuel Gonzalez, 59, was the sole proprietor of the now-closed Tax Preparation Service. According to court filings, Gonzalez allegedly underreported his income on personal tax returns causing a tax loss of over $100,000. The charges were announced on March 16, 2021, by the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas Ashley C. Hoff, along with Special Agent in Charge of the Houston Field Office of the IRS Criminal Investigation Division, Richard D. Goss.
A federal grand jury indictment unsealed last week charges Gonzalez with three counts of filing a false federal income tax return. The indictment alleges that Gonzalez filed fraudulent returns for three years. Gonzalez claimed his income was $17,462, $18,450 and $25,328 for tax years 2014, 2015 and 2016, respectively.
Court testimony revealed that Gonzalez actually earned over $350,000 during that period. Besides underreporting his yearly income, Gonzalez allegedly applied for and improperly received funds through the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Federal authorities arrested Gonzalez on March 3, 2021. During Gonzalez’s detention hearing, U.S. Magistrate Judge Anne T. Berton set bond at $25,000.
V. Six Charged with Crimes Related to Virtual Currency Exchange Business
On March 16, 2021, six individuals were indicted by a federal grand jury in New Hampshire and charged with participating in a conspiracy to operate an unlicensed money transmitting business and other offenses. The indictment was announced by the Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of New Hampshire, John J. Farley.
Those charged in the indictment include the following: Ian Freeman (formerly Ian Bernard), 40, of Keene, Colleen Fordham, 60, of Alstead, Renee Spinella, 23, and Andrew Spinella, 35, both of Derry, Nobody (formerly Richard Paul), 52, and Aria DiMezzo (formerly James Baker), 34, both of Keene. Freeman, Fordham, Renee Spinella, Andrew Spinella, and Nobody also are charged with wire fraud and participating in a conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Ian Freeman is charged with money laundering and operating a continuing financial crimes enterprise. Freeman and DiMezzo also are charged with operating an unlicensed money transmitting business.
According to the indictment, since 2016, the defendants have operated a business that enabled customers to exchange over ten million dollars in fiat currency for virtual currency, charging a fee for their service. They operated their virtual currency exchange business using websites, as well as operating virtual currency ATM machines in New Hampshire.
The indictment alleges that the defendants knowingly operated the virtual currency exchange business in violation of federal anti-money laundering laws and regulations. In furtherance of their scheme, the indictment alleges that some defendants opened bank accounts in the names of purported religious entities.
VI. Slidell Man Charged with Failure to Account for and Pay Taxes
On March 16, 2021, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana Duane A. Evans announced that Scott Pellissier, 55, of Slidell, Louisiana, was charged on March 12 with failing to account for and pay federal income taxes and Federal Insurance Contributions Act (“FICA”) taxes.
According to the one-count bill of information, Pellissier conducted a business as a limited liability company under the name Paint and Body Experts of Slidell, Inc. During the third quarter of the year 2016, Pellissier collected federal income taxes and FICA taxes in the approximate sum of $43,205.83 from his employees, but did not pay any of that money to the Internal Revenue Service.
If convicted, Pellissier faces up to five years in prison, a term of supervised release of up to three years, and/or a fine of $10,000 or the greater of twice the gross gain to the defendant or twice the gross loss to any person.
VII. Tax Preparer Charged with COVID-19 Loan Fraud
A South Florida tax preparer was charged on March 16, 2021, by criminal information with wire fraud in connection with a scheme to obtain over 100 COVID-19-relief loans under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). According to the allegations in the information, Leonel Rivero, 35, of Miami, owned a tax-preparation business and submitted approximately 118 fraudulent PPP loan applications on behalf of himself and his accomplices.
Combined, the 118 PPP loan applications sought more than $2.3 million in PPP loans. On each PPP loan application, Rivero allegedly falsified the applicant’s prior-year income and expenses and submitted fraudulent IRS tax forms. Rivero and his accomplices allegedly received approximately $975,582 in PPP loans as a result of the fraud.
Rivero is scheduled for his initial court appearance on March 23 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. If convicted, Rivero faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
VIII. Two in Pennsylvania Indicted for Conspiring to Distribute Fentanyl
On March 17, 2021, a Philadelphia woman and a man from the Dominican Republic were charged federally with violating federal drug laws. The announcement was made by the Acting U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania Stephen R. Kaufman that day. The two-count Indictment named, Yarelis Mary Garcia Corretjer, 23, of Philadelphia, and Reyelin Manuel Abreu Vasquez, 23, of the Dominican Republic.
According to the Indictment, on or about September 16, 2020, Garcia Corretjer and Abreu Vasquez conspired to possess with intent to distribute fentanyl. Also, on September 16, 2020, Troopers with the Pennsylvania State Police seized from the vehicle, occupied by Garcia Corretjer and Abreu Vasquez, approximately 400 bricks of suspected fentanyl. The suspected fentanyl field-tested positive for the controlled substance.
Abreu Vasquez informed law enforcement that he was illegally in the United States and had crossed the Mexican border approximately four years ago. If convicted, both defendants face up to life in prison and fines of up to $10,000,000 or both.
IX. Illinois Man Charged with Threatening Violence Against Former President Trump, Other Officials
On March 18, 2021, a Chicago man was indicted on federal charges for allegedly threatening to commit violence against former President Trump, a federal judge, and the former U.S. Attorney for the Central District of Illinois. Damien Grant, 33, of Peoria, is charged with three counts of influencing a federal official by threat, two counts of mailing threatening communications, and one count of threatening the President of the United States.
The indictment was returned Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Peoria. Arraignment has not yet been scheduled. The indictment was announced by John R. Lausch, Jr., the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, as well as a number of law enforcement officials.
According to the indictment, on Nov. 30, 2020, Grant stated in a letter addressed to the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of Illinois, “You have 2 two days to drop all charges and investigations against me or im (sic) going to make sure you never see Christmas… I might have someone walk in the Court House and blow all you evil [expletive] to pieces.” The indictment also accuses Grant of sending similarly threatening letters in December 2020 to President Trump and a U.S. District Judge in the Central District of Illinois.
X. 29 Alleged Drug Dealers Face Federal Indictments
A 10-month investigation by the Baltimore OCDETF Strike Force into violence and drug dealing in the area of Pennsylvania and North Avenues in West Baltimore has led to six federal indictments charging a total of 29 defendants for conspiracy, drug distribution, and firearms charges. The defendants are allegedly members of six different drug crews, each using a different name for their drugs, operating in a several-block area in Penn North. The indictments were announced by Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Jonathan F. Lenzner.
The indictments remained sealed until March 18, 2021, as 23 of the defendants have now been arrested and had their initial appearances. Five defendants are fugitives, and a sixth absconded from pretrial release. Over the course of the investigation, law enforcement seized approximately $935,000 in cash, $70,000 worth of luxury jewelry, including Rolex watches, and four kilograms of fentanyl – enough to kill 200,000 people – as well as quantities of cocaine and heroin, and nine firearms.
The first indictment, returned on August 25, 2020, charges Wesley Clash, 38; Dashelle Claridy, 24; Vincent Davis, 41; Myesha Jones, 25; and Kevin Riggins, 26, all of Baltimore, with conspiracy to distribute fentanyl, and crack and powder cocaine using the name “Dirty Sprite,” beginning no later than July 2019. Jones, Clash, and Claridy are also charged with possession with intent to distribute controlled substances. Kevin Riggins is a fugitive, and Vincent Davis absconded from his pretrial release.
The second indictment was also returned on August 25, 2020. The new indictment charges Jerold Gilliam, 40; Akeem Ross, 29; Charles Bond, 25; Trevor Connors, 50; Gilbert Conway, 44; James Meekins, 35; Isaiah Timms, 28; Marquese Ward, 30; and Welton Whittington, Jr., 30, all of Baltimore, for their participation in a conspiracy to distribute fentanyl and crack cocaine, using the name “Bullseye,” beginning in August 2019.
Ross, Bond, Meekins Connors, and Gilliam are also charged with possession with intent to distribute controlled substances. Ward, Ross, Connors are charged with being felons in possession of a firearm, and Ross and Connors are also charged with possession of a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime. Akeem Ross is a fugitive.